I’m stuck on a comparison between “Treme,’’ David Simon and Eric Overmyer’s HBO series about New Orleans, and “Nashville,’’ the great 1975 Robert Altman movie. Both are built on large casts and only slightly interlocking storylines. Both are broad portraits of musical cities, portraits that include a lot of musician characters and performances. And both offer up microcosms of America, with plenty of angry observations about our political system.
The comparison does not extend to tone, as “Nashville’’ is shot through with black comedy. “Treme,’’ which returns for its second season on Sunday at 10 p.m., is consistently dramatic and tragic. As it picks through the urban and psychological wreckage in the aftermath of Katrina, the show is a sad journey through devastated lives. But the comparison with “Nashville’’ helps explain what “Treme’’ is reaching for, as it operates unlike almost any other show on TV. With none of the conventional plot techniques TV viewers are accustomed to, it is a collection of rich moments and poignant characters that loosely adds up to something quite powerful.
I was worried that “Treme’’ might lose its urgency, after one strong season steeped in the shadow of the disaster. But the show returns with the same energy and focus as before, with the characters continuing to recover 14 months after the hurricane. Antoine (Wendell Pierce) wants to front his own band, Davis (Steve Zahn) is causing trouble at his radio station, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) contemplates getting her bar business moving by bringing in live music, Janette (Kim Dickens) is working for a diva chef in New York but dreaming of New Orleans, and civil rights lawyer Toni (Melissa Leo) is dealing with her and her daughter’s grief.
Crime is taking over the city, which makes David Morse as police lieutenant Terry Colson more critical to the storylines this season. The crime wave isn’t just from more robberies and shootings; there are more subtle corporate exploitations going on. Jon Seda joins the cast this season, as a Texan who seems as though he is going to try to skim money off other people’s investments in the reconstruction of New Orleans. Seda goes over the top in letting us know his character may be, at least initially, a sleazeball. He’s too obvious, as opposed to the realism of the other performances. I’m hoping he’ll tone down as the season progresses.
One of the best developments involves violinist Annie (Lucia Micarelli), who is finally moving forward in her career. She and Davis are a couple now, and their love affair is sweet and fresh, one of the show’s little flowers growing up through all the broken concrete.